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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK


Sci/Tech

Net will be death of MI6 - Tomlinson

Tomlinson lives in Switzerland and communicates over the Net

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

Former MI6 intelligence officer, Richard Tomlinson, who has threatened to publish state secrets on the World Wide Web, says the Internet spells the end for the world's intelligence services.

His prediction came in an e-mail interview with BBC News Online. "I think the Net will eventually make intelligence agencies defunct as there will be a lot less secrets around the world that they can steal," he said.

Mr Tomlinson criticised the government's attempts to suppress the publication of a list of more than a hundred alleged MI6 operatives on the Internet last week, describing it as "foolish".

Already more than 100 copies of the list have been put up on Internet bulletin boards. A Website reproducing the list has recorded more than 27,000 views of the page. Hoax lists have appeared and there is even chain e-mail carrying the names.

Mr Tomlinson says in his e-mail that he has received both supportive messages and hostile ones blaming him for the publication - some amounting to death threats have been referred to his lawyer.

He continues to deny that he sent the list to Executive Intelligence Review magazine, where they were first published online, and says many of the names are unknown to him.

The e-mail exchange in full:

What kind and amount of e-mail have you been receiving?

When The Sun first published my address alongside a very hostile and one-sided article, I got quite a lot of threatening e-mail. But I got even more supportive e-mail from people who thought that MI6 should be exposed anyway. I am writing back to everybody who e-mailed me to explain to them that it wasn't me who was responsible for the leak.

Virtually everybody who was hostile has written back and apologised. Some have responded with even more hostile and threatening e-mail, and I am forwarding those that amount to death-threats to my solicitor.

How important has the Internet become to you?

I use e-mail a great deal. Phone calls where I live are very expensive, so I cannot spend much time online, which is a shame. I do occasionally e-mail David [Shayler], but not for a few months. We always use PGP [Pretty Good Privacy] encryption to stop the French intelligence service from eavesdropping.

What are your thoughts on whether Executive Intelligence Review should have published the anonymous e-mail with the names?

I think that they have the right to publish whatever they want. Governments and intelligence services should learn to live with the Internet and not try to censor it.

Who could have sent it if it was not you, how accurate is it?

I don't know who could have sent it. After examining the list, I don't think it is particularly accurate. All the names that I recognise are retired or resigned from MI6, or are widely accpeted as being "blown".

Most names I just do not know, so I cannot say whether or not they are from MI6. I don't think the publication of the list was in itself damaging to MI6. HMG [Her Majesty's Government] made it damaging by announcing to the world that it existed and that it was accurate. I can't explain why they did this.

How many sites have you had? How skilled have you become in constructing them?

I am really only a beginner, but I use Front Page so learning really was not at all difficult. I really enjoyed the process.

What was the timeline of them being opened and closed?

My Swiss site was up for about a day before MI6 obtained an injunction. My first Geocities site lasted about a weekend before MI6 found it. My second Geocities site lasted about a week. None of these sites contained the list that is causing all the fuss.

How supportive have Internet Service Providers (ISPs) been and other hosts? Why did you obey the injunctions when they were aimed at the ISPs or were without jurisdiction?

In general, none of the ISPs I have used have been very supportive or robust. They have all folded to government censorship without a whimper. I think that is disappointing.

What are your thoughts on the power of the Internet to overcome any attempts to censor you and the reaction on the Net to all this?

I think it very foolish for MI6 to try to censor the Net. They should accept that this sort of freedom of information is here to stay. I think the Net will eventually make intelligence agencies defunct as there will be a lot less secrets around the world that they can steal.

Given the government's commitment to a Freedom of Information bill, what are your thoughts on its behaviour in this affair?

Rather hypocritical - but that is to be expected of any government in power. But I have no doubt that this incident has got the public talking and thinking about the power of the Internet, and eventually that public opinion will filter its way into legislation.



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